Posts Tagged ‘Fight or Flight’



I recently experienced a situation which reminded me about the power of fear. Our lights needed to be replaced in the gym, and unfortunately for me, that meant climbing 2 stories up to reach the lights. We had to find a ladder tall enough and safe enough to get someone up there.

Given my recent surgery, I asked some of the other business owners to help go up the ladder. Unfortunately, none of us are big fans of heights, including me. Clearly, the fear of heights was stopping other people from doing what was needed to be done. So… up I went. It was not comfortable, I don’t like the heights as much as the next person. Yet, up and down I went several times.

Then, I hear one of them say, “Oh, but I’m scared of heights.”

I reply, “Dude, I’m terrified! But I am still up here.”

They said, “You’re a soldier. Soldiers do not fear.”

Pfft, whaaaaat?

This is, of course, nonsense because the common sense in the army is that you don’t want a soldier with no fear because those are usually the soldiers who get other people killed. Either that or they go on suicide missions and usually die in the process of taking out an enemy encampment, which earns them some kind of post-death award. Which doesn’t do anything…

Unfortunately, I don’t think I would get a post-death award for falling off a ladder.

You need fear. Evolutionarily, fear is a survival tool. Fear can be a useful tool to remind you that you are mortal, yes you can get hurt or die, and that whatever you’re afraid of is potentially dangerous. Fear of death is reasonable. However, not everything will kill you! The litany against fear in Frank Herbert’s Dune illustrates the best example of the power of fear and the even greater power of facing fear.

I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.

Ultimately, the greatest fear is… not knowing. The unknown is the most terrifying thing to everyone. Fear of the unknown is a fear that can freeze even the strongest of us. Thus, because the fear response is so engrained in our biology, we’re scared of things that don’t technically logically need to be feared. Going up the ladder feels scary because it’s high, but it is quite safe in reality because there are two people holding the ladder and at least five other people watching.

Being a soldier didn’t make me any less fearful of a situation, it just gave me the ability to learn to face my fears. I don’t forget about fear. I’ve simply learned that sometimes, even when you may be scared, a job still needs to get done. Some people are more accepting of fear than others, but it is not an excuse not to move forward.

In the end, life is about moving forward and getting things done. Sometimes, that means facing your fear. Maybe as a species, we can’t out-logic fear yet. But we can face it. Fear is not an excuse to stop moving forward. Know fear, use fear, and keep moving forward.


The Brain The Great Equalizer

One of the great things about being an instructor of any kind is that you will be exposed to a wide variety of people, with different backgrounds and education levels. This exposure, with an open mind, can only make you better.

Some of you may know that I am currently in the process of getting my BA in Psychology. Part of the reason I am doing this is to better understand the people I am teaching. The other part is to better understand the brain, which is the great equalizer. More or less, no matter of your skill level our experiences our brains are fundamentally the same and operate in the same manner. One of these great equalizers is the Fight or Flight response, which as it happens is a big factor in decision making in Krav Maga.

During the last shotgun course, and during the long drive out to the appropriate shooting area I had the pleasure of discovering that one of my students also shares my interest in Psychology. She has a Bsc in Psychology with a focus on the biological aspects of the brain. She obtained her degree from Lewis-Clark State College.

As we always do at UTKM we encourage our students to share their knowledge and help contribute to our blog. I asked her to discuss the Fight or Flight mechanism from a biopsych point of view. Below is what she sent me.

“The fight or flight response refers to physiological reaction that occurs when a person is placed in a threatening situation. Fight or flight simply describes the two basic decisions that are instantaneously made to resolve the dangerous situation, which is the decision to either quickly escape or to stay and fight.

The physiological effects of this response begins with one or several of the five senses, typically vision. A person will see threatening stimili, such a person or animal. The stimili is then sent as a signal via the optic nerve to be processed by the brain, generally in the amygdala, known as the ‘fear center’ which sends signals to the hypothalamus, which activates the nervous system. A signal then stimulates the sympathetic nervous system which sends impulses down the spinal column to the adrenal gland, which releases epinephrine, also known as adrenaline. This hormone will cause the heart rate to increase and is sent throughout the body as the heart beats faster. Epinephrine will signal the liver to release glucose, which will then be converted into ATP, which is used to activate muscles. This heightened level of epinephrine in the body will also activate the lungs, causing the breathing rate to increase in order for the body take in and utilize more oxygen through dilated blood vessels. The pupils in the eyes will also dilate to facilitate better lighting and vision as blood vessels in the ears dilate for increased auditory perception. In order to efficiently escape an attack or to fight, this response also subdues bodily processes which are unnecessary during a dangerous situation, such as digestion. The elevated levels of this hormone and increased activation of these bodily processes will increase body heat, which is also useful as it allows your muscles to ‘warm up’ in seconds as the mind registers the threat.

Psychologically, the combination of the increased heart rate, sweating, and the explosion of energy in the muscles, create a sense of acute awareness of the current situation and the ability to act quickly. While this illustrates a case in which the entire process runs smoothly, you must also be aware of the case in which it fails, known as condition black. Condition black is also known as ‘freezing’ during a dangerous situation, preventing the individual from fleeing or fighting. Cognitively, a sense of increased aggression will be associated with the ‘fight’ response and a combination of fear and anxiety for ‘flight’, while freezing is associated with fear and anxiety, but also a feeling of physical stiffness. During this freeze response, the parasympathetic nervous system dumps large amounts of hormones into the body, the same hormones that return the body to its relaxed state after a fight. The sudden increase of these hormones during a dangerous situation have the opposite effect of the fight or flight response, mixing panic with an inability to act quickly. Although freezing can be useful in situations in which a person must remain still in order to hide from an attacker, it can be detrimental when faced with an attacker head on.”

It is amazing to me that so much goes on in the brain in such a short amount of time, and for an untrained individual the Fight or Flight mechanism will operate in just that manner.

“I need to run, or quick throw a punch”

The great advantage of being a  properly trained individual is that this one will not be easily governed by their immediate biological responses. They will instead do their best to diffuse and continually assess the situation. Only then, will they make the decision to run (Flight) or to Fight with the purpose of escaping danger.

Of course, we are all human and there are times when we can be overwhelmed and thus enter condition black. You will never know if you are the kind of person who will enter condition black and freeze or will allow with correct decision making, the fight or flight mechanism, to work effectively. The only way to know, is during a period of extreme stress where an immediate and correct response is required, which will ultimately test your ability to react appropriately.

In the end, the only way to really reduce the chance of entering condition black is to train and become better at reacting under pressure. Which is something of course, any good Krav Maga training must include.

Written by: Annie Faulkner & Jonathan Fader